It is evident that the US cannot fight DAESH as if there is no complex war raging in Syria. Considering the conditions on the ground, the US administration must address not only how to degrade and destroy DAESH, but how US policy can help restore stability across the Syrian state.
It must do both by being diplomatically active in engaging all major actors in play in the region. For America, Russia and Iran cannot be allowed to set diplomatic precedence in Syria and Iraq and be the leaders. The United States must formulate integrated strategy that would involve Washington in any major diplomatic discussions regarding potential political solutions. So far this is not the case. This new approach will require expanded engagement with the Syrian players, both domestic and foreign, in order to improve possibilities for change.
Without inclusion of the Russian side, it will be more likely to undermine Western plans and potentially drag America into protracted and chaotic proxy war. Once it was clear that Syrian leader Assad would not step down easily, US policy did not adapt nor did policymakers create a viable alternative strategy to achieve its goals. It is apparent that Syria is becoming a geopolitical Chernobyl, spreading violence and fanaticism across the region. Once DAESH is eliminated any new strategy must aim to achieve an immediate drop in violence by coordinating a ceasefire across all sides. The difficulty is going to be determining the political price for the elimination of DAESH.
American political and military lethargy in Syria should be viewed as a result of having no compelling strategy that could push for deeper effective involvement. This must no longer be the case, as the US must work towards curbing further spillover of the Syrian crisis, which has brought refugee mayhem to Europe. Now US allies in Europe must contend with the massive potential threat emerging. The United States and European Union should use a combination of assertive military initiatives and broad diplomatic approaches to establish communication with all major regional actors. The United States must pressure Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey to halt financial and weapons assistance to their groups of choice within Iraq and Syria. Both the EU and US can use an integrated strategy that includes arms embargos, economic sanctions and rewards, and airstrikes.
Keeping Russian pride in mind, cooperation is possible by working parallel, coordinated air strikes and other operations for maximum effect against DAESH. In April, Foreign Minister Lavrov called it “the main threat” to Russia today. Jihadists who live in Russia’s North Caucasus have switched their allegiance to DAESH and declared their regions as part of the DAESH provincial network. Russia is worried that the Syrian Assad regime could be replaced by a worse Islamic extremist force. The collapse of governments in Libya and Iraq is used by Russia to affirm such concerns. The United States should use this shared fear to motivate Russia and the EU to work together with it. This is an opportunity for America to develop a new diplomatic path and establish new beneficial connections to Russia and come out as a cohesive positive influence. But so far this has frustratingly not happened.
Former deputy director of the CIA Michael Morell said that any strategy should probably include working with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russia. The reason for this approach is that proxy war with Russia will not help America and it will not decimate terrorist groups that are more important in the immediate-term. The priority for all involved sides right now must be the absolute destruction of DAESH and its allies. DAESH has clearly achieved capacity to strike the EU and it has the same plans for the United States. The question whether President Assad needs to go can be tackled in a post-DAESH world.
The fight against radical Islam is something that the EU, Russia, and even China support. There is a potential to use this international sentiment to start working on new diplomatic relationships. While some countries can help militarily, many more can help financially by providing supplies or impeding DAESH financial networks. After multiple brutal terror attacks in France and now Brussels, the EU is out of time and must act as soon as possible on new ideas. Meanwhile, the United States must stop appearing hamstrung by the continued lack of valid partners on the ground in Syria, whether diplomatically or militarily. Too much time and resources are wasted and it is only adding to the image of the US being indecisive and even impotent.
Continued diplomatic dialogue should present realistic and achievable goals that many countries find attractive. At the moment most countries want DAESH to be eliminated. But the United States should not allow Russia to continue to lead the way in military and diplomatic action. It should be a primary part of all regional high level negotiations, which at the moment it is not. The current rigid and recalcitrant American strategy should be abandoned. The Middle East must understand that America will be the part of any solution no matter what. That is something Iran should be reminded of due to its recent political and military assertions.
At the moment, the EU lacks cohesive leadership that can mandate decisions and act in a timely manner. Sometimes it can take the EU a very long time to agree on something urgent. Following the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels, it remains to be seen if NATO can react according to its accord of mutual protection. If it doesn’t, then some of America’s prime European partners might start looking more toward Russia as a strategic partner. For example, British Prime Minister David is open to offering compromises on the future of Syrian President Assad in return for Russian help targeting DAESH. French President Hollande will travel to Washington and Moscow to discuss ways of increasing international cooperation in the fight against DAESH, not just Washington. The United States must act to avoid losing leadership position to Russia in this fight against terrorism. Putin is more than willing to exploit the void left by Washington in Syria and Iraq. Both France and the UK cannot single-handedly defeat domestic or international terrorist threats. They are now painfully aware that they both need foreign assistance in this desperate struggle. So what remains to be seen is who is going to step up to that desperate need in REAL terms: America or Russia? Disturbingly, so far in real terms the answer seems to be more bear than eagle.